Despite the tombstones erected over the years by pundits and analysts, the Western never really died. It has just been suffering a gut shot.
This fall, though, it's blazing back to theaters with movies that range from the contemporary to the legendary:
•3:10 to Yuma
revisits the 1957 film, this time with Christian Bale playing a modest farmer who escorts an outlaw, played by Russell Crowe, to a train bound for federal prison. It opens Sept. 7. •The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
, out Sept. 21, features Brad Pitt as the famous gunslinger and Casey Affleck as his turncoat gang member.
•No Country for Old Men
. Set in the modern-day Rio Grande, the latest film from the Coen Brothers is a bloody hunt among thieves for $2 million. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, it opens Nov. 9.
No one's quite sure why the Western became an endangered species on the cinematic landscape. Many recent Westerns, including Brokeback Mountain
, Open Range
and the Australian film The Proposition
, were critical favorites, if not always blockbusters.
"The Western is still just about the best genre for cinematic storytelling," says Paul Dergarabedian of Media By Numbers. "And they can make money, especially in the hands of the right director, like a Clint Eastwood or Kevin Costner."
They're also just fun to make, Yuma
's Bale says.
"What's not to like?" he asks. "You're out in the beautiful country, riding horses, shooting guns. I guess they can seem repetitive if you're telling similar stories, but so would any kind of film."
Pitt wonders whether the Western's reputation as a languid genre scares studios.
"It can be a slow burn and out of its time," he says. " But to examine the people behind some of the myths of history can be poetry." Yuma
director James Mangold says Hollywood just got lazy.
"We led the way for a while, then the Italian filmmakers took it over," he says. "Now it's our chance to take it back."
Not that it will be that easy.
"Kids aren't saying 'Hey, there's a new Western we have to check out,' " Dergarabedian says. "But there are real A-list stars in this new crop, so there's hope."